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Judas Priest – Nostradamus

Label: Epic / Sony
Format: 2 - CD
Released: 2008
Reviewed By: Rich Catino
Ok die hard Priest fans (and I am one), dedicated metal militia, and critics….before you start hailing this work as groundbreaking don’t forget it has been done before by many, and for many years now. And believe me by making this point it is not my intention to take anything away from Priest’s effort and accomplishments with “Nostradamus”. But the idea of a Heavy Metal band successfully conquering a concept record with orchestral, operatic and classical elements is nothing new.
Remember and recognize what came before like Queensryche “Operation Mindcrime”, two of my favorites “Abigail” from horror maestro King Diamond and Wasp’s “The Crimson Idol” which is underappreciated, Helloween’s “Keeper of the Seven Keys Pts. 1&2”, Savatage “Streets – A Rock Opera” which I find is often overlooked and deserves praise, and who can forget “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” from Iron Maiden.

Then you have from the 90’s to the present the Euro Power Metal bands like Blind Guardian and their epic “Nightfall In Middle Earth”, other fantasy gems like Iced Earth’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and Gamma Ray’s “Land of the Free” (both sagas which were completed in recent years), the period piece “Tunes of War” from Grave Digger and the Avantasia “Metal Operas”. “The Black Halo” from Kamelot.

Judas Priest have gone to where all their predecessors have gone before, yet, incorporating their own ideas and talents to make for their most epic and intricate piece of work to date. Priest, while always experimenting in sound (ex: synthesizers for the “Turbo” album) and dynamics over the years, have pretty much played it safe with each record staying within their world of guitar based sounds and arrangements.

“Nostradamus” clearly sees the band exploring orchestrated and theatrical ideas outside of just what the guitar can create.

Take for example “Awakening” and “Peace”.

Now, for long time Priest aficionados, the classical elements and ballady moments heard in Glenn Tipton and KK Downing’s acoustic guitars will be of no surprise knowing songs like ‘Last Rose of Summer” from “Sin After Sin”, “Beyond the Realms of Death” from “Stained Class”, to “Night Comes Down” from “Defenders of the Faith” and “Blood Red Skies” from “Ram it Down”. These type of compositions (like “Sands of Time” with its tender keys and strings) can be heard on each “Nostradamus” interlude which connect several songs to the next.

Disc One starts off on the right foot after opening intro “Dawn of Creation” sets the mood building up to the main melody line which carries over to “Prophecy”. Here hitting the listener immediately with those identifiable riffs was smart and will bring fans back to “British Steel” and the song “Metal Gods” a bit. Mr. Halford serves almost as a narrator instead of a heavy metal frontman bringing the story to the listener like a book on tape, and it works. For “Prophecy”, Rob draws attention and brings emphasis to each lyric in the way he annunciates every word. KK Downing and Glenn Tipton nicely trade off on the guitar solos then come together harmonizing for the main melody. “Revelations” follows with orchestrations complimenting the main guitar riff nicely, “Pestilence and Plague” utilizes the gallop Priest is known for.

I’m not to sure about the decision to release “War” as the first video. I think it may be a bit too dramatic with the clanging swords and orchestrations, but I could be wrong. The seven minute “Death” is very strong and the darkest arrangement with its plodding riffs, haunting leads and church bells. “Persecution” is the most aggressive track closing out disc one with a more up tempo attack and vocal. The splashes of dark orchestration fit well. Disc one wins and is the better of the two.

Disc Two unfortunately opens slow with a depressive piano in “Solitude”. The theme continues and doesn’t get any better for the ballady “Exiled”. “Alone” is next and while a bit more rockin is still too slow. “Visions” is better and I recalled something from “Ram it Down” in the riffing pattern but not quite good enough compared to what can be found on Disc One.

“Hope”, “New Beginning” which has a strong melody and chorus but again another ballad, and interlude “Calm Before the Storm” all carry the same lack of enthusiasm. By this point the closing title track is this discs saving grace. Its very “Painkiller” in the riffs and delivery and Halford opens the song with a blazing scream. I am not sold on Disc Two yet. I think it really lacks energy and the variety found on the first.

Look, if you are expecting more anthems like “Livin After Midnight” and “Breaking the Law” then you are listening for the wrong reasons. These songs were written and presented as a complete body of work and Priest did a great job. It is something different and not the same old same old.
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